Canada lost jobs last month. The unemployment rate inched up 1/10th of a per cent to 7.3 per cent. And the Bank of Canada warned that Canadians should expect continued weakness in the economic recovery.
It's been a disappointing week, but there's no need to be anxious, experts say. While the job stats and unemployment levels have high visibility, they are overall numbers that may not be relevant to your job and industry. Friday's decline was the first drop in employment since March; in the past year, employment has grown by 1.3 per cent, or 223,000 positions. Recent figures are also showing Canada's job growth faring better than the U.S. job market.
However, it's only prudent to assess potential risks to your job as well as the potential for advancement in your career. Here are some barometers the experts say can give you a truer picture of what the job market holds for you:
How's the confidence?
The monthly readings of consumers' willingness to spend are indicators of how likely goods are to find buyers. But they're also a measure of how confident employers are about taking on new employees and how good people feel about the prospects of landing a better job if they leave their current one, said Tom Long, executive recruiter with Russell Reynolds Associates in Toronto.
"We're still quite busy; the uncertainty doesn't seem to be slowing down decision making on hiring at executive levels," he said. Recruiting is particularly strong in professional services, accounting, finance and information technology.
"But having said that, people are obviously becoming more wary. I can tell in discussions with candidates we recruit that they are factoring the risk of a slowdown into their decisions to make a move," Mr. Long said.
"I've been through several cycles of slowing growth and you tend to find both client and candidates hitting the pause button at the same time." It's not a clear trend yet, but it's one to watch, he said.
Are jobs still churning?
As long as there is continued movement of people within your industry, there is still opportunity, said Alan Kearns, president of Ottawa-based coaching company CareerJoy. "If the economy continues to linger, we will see a reduction in flow of people between employers. The danger signs you have to watch for are layoffs and hiring freezes," he said. "I've recently seen a growth of business in outplacement of displaced executives, and that's not a good sign," he said.
"Another element we are paying attention to is outplacement of government employees as the federal government and provinces reduce head counts, a process that's increased in the past few months," Mr. Kearns said. That could reverse itself, though, if governments decide to apply economic stimulus, as government jobs are often the first to be created.
The public sector was the bright spot in Friday's job numbers, with an increase in employment of 22,000, balancing out a loss of 20,000 positions in the private sector.
What's your bottom line?
The fourth quarter, from October through December, is a particularly hazardous time even in a good economy, warned Warren Lundy, partner with OI Partners-Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. in Toronto.
Companies planning to make cutbacks want to book their expenses related to severance, unemployment compensation, career transition assistance and other costs in the current year, so they can start the following year more streamlined, he said. And as the heavy deck-clearing in the 2008 recession demonstrated, there can be little warning before the axe falls and even good performers might find themselves expendable.
"You may be able to correct performance-related issues if they exist, but individual employees do not have much control over their company's financial situation and the economy," he said.
"Layoffs and terminations usually take most people by surprise. They are generally unprepared for what to do next," Mr. Lundy said. "Even if you think your job is secure, it's prudent to be on the lookout for possible termination warning signs, make adjustments if you can, and be ready to move forward if a job loss occurs," he added.
Are the roots healthy?
Even if your part of the business is doing well, you could be vulnerable if you are in a subsidiary of a company with a head office in the United States or Europe, where the economy may be shakier, said Lou Clements, managing director of career consultancy Clements United Inc. in Toronto.
When times get tough, companies sometimes decide to consolidate or integrate the Canadian subsidiary into the head office to save on overhead. "If there is a risk of a pullback, you have to be open minded that the nature of your role may change. If, for instance, you are [chief financial officer] for Canada, the branch plant executive position may be eliminated and you may have to take a lesser role, such as controller of the larger organization," he said. If you want to stay at the CFO level, you might have to be willing to move out of the country.
If it's possible you could be facing these choices and want to stay in Canada, it's important to work your network in the industry here to find another company that is less likely to face retrenchment in the next couple of years. Start to research and target possible alternatives. "At the same time, you should be assessing your transferable skills if a move to another industry becomes necessary," Mr. Clements added.
Are you near the core?
It is important to pay attention to potentially vulnerable parts of your business and try to get into areas where there are opportunities for growth, new revenue or cost savings, Mr. Kearns said. "You want to be part of the core. A new venture could be axed if it is not far enough along to be generating revenue now."
Even within the core, aim to be in an area that is growing. "If it is a legacy part of the business that is just holding its own, it could be cut back," he said.
And no matter which way the turbulence tosses you, stay positive, because employers looking to trim costs are more likely to want to eliminate people who are gloomy and negative, Mr. Kearns said.
"There's no question you can get down on yourself. The people who remain positive and look for opportunities are the ones who are going to come out the best in any market storm."
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
In turbulent times, the challenge for leaders is to keep people focused, reduce anxiety and build some certainty around their work:
Address the risk
You must communicate regularly and admit that you see the dangers, but also present a vision of opportunity if people work together. Indicate areas where management and clients see potential for growth.
Pay attention to performance
Address any signs of lagging effort or reluctance and give encouragement. Both weak and strong performers can become distracted by the noise and end up feeling vulnerable and indecisive.
How is their game plan changing? It's important to stay ahead of the curve. You may not have to change your plan, but be prepared with an alternative if things continue to deteriorate.
Aim as high as possible
If you are just putting a toe in the water rather than being 100-per-cent committed to a goal, you risk ceding the advantage to a more motivated competitor.
Source: Alan Kearns, president of CareerJoy
HOW SAFE ARE YOU?
Even if you think your job is secure, it's wise to ensure that your organization considers you a keeper. Here are some signs that you may be considered expendable if job cuts are in the offing:
Your boss is making less eye contact with you than usual.
You have less face-to-face time with your manager.
You are included in fewer meetings.
You received an unexpectedly poor performance review.
You have been told your skills or knowledge are outdated.
Your workload or responsibilities have been reduced.
Your co-workers know more about what's going on than you do.
E-mails you send suddenly don't receive replies.
Cutbacks in your department have been more severe than others.
Source: OI Partners-Feldman Daxon Partners Inc.